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UN atomic agency: Iran does away with nuclear stockpile closest to material used to make arms

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VIENNA — Iran has turned all of its enriched uranium closest to the level needed to make nuclear arms into more harmless forms, the United Nations' nuclear agency said Sunday.

The move was expected. Tehran had committed to convert or dilute its 20-percent enriched stockpile under an agreement with six powers last November that froze its atomic programs pending negotiations on a comprehensive deal. Those talks were extended Saturday to Nov. 24.

Still, the development was noteworthy in reflecting Iran's desire not to derail the diplomatic process with the six countries — the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany.

Iran had more than 200 kilograms (440 pounds) of 20 percent enriched uranium when the preliminary agreement was reached. That's nearly enough for one warhead.

A report from the U.N.'s International Atomic Energy Agency obtained by The Associated Press said that all has now been converted or diluted. The report said Iran was observing all of its other commitments as well.

PHOTO: European foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, left, and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, right, address the media after closed-door nuclear talks in Vienna, Austria, Saturday, July 19, 2014. (AP Photo/Ronald Zak)
European foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, left, and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, right, address the media after closed-door nuclear talks in Vienna, Austria, Saturday, July 19, 2014. (AP Photo/Ronald Zak)

At 20 percent, enriched uranium can be converted quickly to arm a nuclear weapon. Iran denies wanting such arms.

Tehran is keen to seal a deal that would end nuclear-related sanctions on its economy, but is resisting a U.S.-led drive to put stiff, long-term constraints on atomic activities that have both peaceful and weapons-related applications.

The main dispute is over uranium enrichment, which can make both reactor fuel and the fissile core of nuclear warheads.

Up to last week Tehran had demanded that it be allowed to expand its enrichment program over the next eight years to a level that would need about 190,000 current-model enriching centrifuges.

It now has about 20,000 centrifuges, with half of them operating. Iranian officials have recently signaled they are ready to freeze that number for now. But U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said last week it was "crystal clear" that even 10,000 are too many.

Diplomats say Washington wants no more than 2,000 of the machines.

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